Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Review: The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish
When Elliott and his brother move into the old and crumbling Glebe House they don't expect to find themselves sharing it with ghosts. But soon sinister events are unfolding. An old diary reveals glimpses of the mansion's past - and of a terrible tragedy. An old woman talks to ghosts - but is she in fact being controlled by them? And what of the sinister East Wing - a hideous labyrinth devised by a truly twisted mind? Can Elliott and his family escape the clutches of Glebe House? Or will they end up trapped in the endless maze of corridors, forever hunted by the dead?
Tired of vampires? All zombied out? Not a fan of gore? If you love horror and can say yes to any or all of these then The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish might be for you. With the success in cinemas of The Woman in Black is would appear that the more traditional ghost stories are gaining in popularity again. Already this year I have reviewed Michelle Harrison's Unrest and James Dawson's Hollow Pike, both of which rely heavily on the creep factor rather than blood splatter, and The Hunting Ground is another book in this vein.
The Hunting Ground was first released in 2011 by Orion's Children's Books, but was re-released earlier in 2012 as part of Orion's new YA imprint, Indigo. It certainly sits better in my mind as a book for teens as it is the kind of book from which nightmares are born.
I'm trying to think of a way to describe the plot without giving too much away, as much of the impact from this book comes from the tension that Cliff McNish skilfully builds as the story progresses, with the reader constantly guessing (and fearing) what might happen next. Too put it as concisely as possible, two boys and their father move into a run-down country mansion that is in dire need of renovation. Naturally, this being a ghost story, the house has quite a nasty history. A previous owner, Cullayn, was a vicious beast of a man, and unfortunately for boys the despicable atrocities he committed have left a mark on the house that could have dire consequences for them many years on.
The pace of the story was absolutely spot on in my opinion. Cliff McNish has pulses racing with his more terrifying scenes, but knows exactly when to pull back and give the reader a little respite, before ratcheting the fear actor up all over gain. In doing so the tension in the story builds constantly throughout the book, so that when we come to the climactic closing scenes we are little more than gibbering wrecks, jumping at the smallest noise.
Cliff McNish has again proved that he is a master of dark storytelling, and I am a little saddened that he is not as widely known as the other current masters of teen horror. Much as I enjoyed Hollow Pike by James Dawson I found The Hunting Ground to be a much scarier read and I have been pushing it with the horror fans at school ever since. McNish is able to tap into a reader's psyche and seem to take great delight in playing around with their primal fears. I am not easily scared but having read this well into the night I did then experience uncomfortable dreams where I was being chased through long, empty corridors by an unknown entity.
For confident older teen readers The Hunting Ground could make the perfect entry into some of the classic ghost/horror stories by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and M.R. James or the brilliant The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. My thanks go to the lovely people at Orion for sending me a copy to review.